The women too

Neither kings nor any other males have a right to prevent women’s religious expression.

Rabbi Dr. Raymond Apple

Judaism Young Jewish women study Talmud at women's Beit Midrash
Young Jewish women study Talmud at women's Beit Midrash


The sidra gets its name from the word, "Bo", which means "Come (to Pharaoh)" (Ex. 10:1). We would expect "lech" (go) instead of "bo".

Some commentators think the Children of Israel had direct access to Pharaoh and could see him whenever they wished – idyllic but hard to believe.

The Baal Shem Tov says that God is telling Israel, "Instead of feeling alone and apprehensive, come to the king with Me – we will face him together and I will support you".

The lesson we learn from this interpretation is that whenever a person or people has a difficult encounter ahead they should remember the last line of Adon Olam, "The Lord is with me – I shall not fear".


When the king decides he has had enough he tells the Israelites they can go.

But he seems to think that most will stay put and only a select number will leave and have a celebration outside Egypt’s borders. That is why he asks who will be going (Ex. 10:8).

Moses says that everyone will go, young and old, sons and daughters.

The king tries to negotiate. In verse 11 he says that only the men should go.

In Egypt the men do the important things – not only in Egypt but in most cultures up to this day. Do you remember the notion that only men could sign cheques?

Moses is not having any of this. Daughters will go as well as sons, he says – even flocks and herds, nothing and no-one will remain.

The insistence that women are more than the stay-at-home cooks and cleaners is not for Moses, nor should it be for us. The home must not be neglected, but women should not be belittled or left out of religious life.

Currently women’s Torah study is developing. Neither kings nor any other males have a right to prevent women’s religious expression.


A strange phrase occurs in verse 5 of chapter 10: A plague shall cover the eye of the earth, "ein ha-aretz".

According to Rashi, this means the appearance (i.e. the face) of the earth. The plague will be a total epidemic preventing normal life.

The question is whether we are talking about the earth or the sun, about a plague below or a plague above.

If it is the earth, no-one will be able to move because locusts will get into every nook and cranny. If it is the sun, there will be darkness above which will blot out the sunlight. A person standing on earth will find that the plague of locusts will be so powerful that the sunlight will not be able to penetrate.

Targum Onkelos clarifies the verse by saying that "the eye of the sun over (upon) the earth" will be obscured.

The halakhah uses the word "ayin" (an eye) in the Rashi sense, so that if a thing is "b’ayin" it is visible and perceptible.


What a job it is when you start packing for your holiday or business trip.

Deciding what to take and what not to take was always difficult. It is even harder now that airline security measures are much more stringent than ever before.

And if this is the case with normal travel, imagine how complicated it is if you are moving to another city or country.

Yet as Kohelet says (1:9), “There is nothing new under the sun”, and long before air travel our Israelite ancestors faced a similar problem when they left Egypt for the Promised Land.

We are not certain what possessions they had, but they must have brought something with them, as God had authorised them to ask the Egyptians for compensation for the years of enslavement (Ex. 3:21-22).

But what about the leader, Moses? What did he bring?

Material things do not appear to have been important to him. His concern was more spiritual than material. He brought the bones of Joseph, who had pleaded not to be left behind when the people returned home (Ex. 13:19).

But where exactly were Joseph’s remains? Here the Midrash comes to our aid. The Jewish sages believed that his coffin had been sunk in the Nile, but where?

Serach the daughter of Asher was able to help, and showed Moses where to look. He thereupon threw a pebble into the water and said, "Joseph, the time has come for Israel to leave their oppressors. Come up: don’t cause us any delay!" At once the coffin floated to the surface, and the Exodus could proceed (M’chilta B’shallach; Sh’mot Rabba 20:17).

The coffin now accompanied the Israelites throughout their years in the wilderness. It went side by side with the Ark of the Covenant because, say the rabbis, "He (Joseph) fulfilled what was in the Ark".

Joseph dreamed dreams but had his feet on the ground. He suffered injustice but remained an optimist. He had vision but was able to turn ideas into reality. He was tempted to sin but had the moral courage to resist. He mixed with kings but could talk to ordinary human beings. He honoured his past but planned for the future.

Finding his body enabled Moses to demonstrate ideas and values to the people.